Control Engineering advice: 60 years and beyond

Think Again: Wisdom from the past helps us innovate for the future, adapting to educational needs of control, instrumentation, and automation systems, worldwide.

By Mark T. Hoske September 16, 2014

As the past offers wisdom about how to apply the control loop, the future offers promise for automation and controls technologies, as the control loop expands into other fields and applications. Even when those using control-loop concepts (sense, decide, actuate, and repeat to optimize) do not call it "the control loop," it’s easy to see how these principles applied in myriad applications, since Control Engineering’s founding in September 1954.

  • January 2014’s Think Again column looked at predictions for this year. (How are you/we progressing?)
  • Each month this year, we’ve posted tidbits of wisdom offered in past issues.
  • The 60th anniversary cover image shows Control Engineering issues every 10 years, 1954 through 2014, reminding us that the past helps guide our future.
  • In this issue, feature articles look at the past, present, and future of controllers, open and closed-loop control, electronic motion control, and the changing system integration industry. Other columns and departments also look at perspectives and predictions.

Control Engineering continues to adapt and change to meet subscribers’ needs; the 2015 editorial calendar topics were derived from detailed analysis of your input. CFE Media asked, "What topics should Control Engineering cover?" We asked this of subscribers, in research studies, in feedback after webcasts, and through analysis of online traffic trends for what we post online daily.

Innovating for your future

Control Engineering, as part of CFE Media (CFE stands for Content for Engineers), continues to innovate and educate in print and digital products, providing what subscribers want, how they want it, and when. Offerings include six editions globally, newsletters (15 years ago, we sent our first newsletter), webcasts, videos, an expanding website, our recently rebranded and upgraded Global System Integrator Database and other software products, ContentStream syndication software, and CFE Media’s Apps for Engineers, a mobile app of apps for our engineering audiences, among other offerings.

Thanks for 60 years of innovation; I look forward to continuing working with you to advance the future of control, instrumentation, and automation systems, worldwide.

– Mark T. Hoske, content manager, CFE Media, Control Engineering,

ONLINE extras

Comments: Best practices are timeless

Three pieces of timeless advice: 1) Read and update documentation; 2) consult others for best practices; and 3) understand the process and think through the situation before proceeding.

I’ve been with Control Engineering for 20 of its 60 years and continue to attempt to relay what I learn along the way. On an outing with my dad this summer, I learned that early operators of steam tractors, even if fully knowledgeable about tractor controls, could meet with disaster without knowledge about the engineering, the process, and the environment involved in the application. Going downhill forward was a problem for some boilers, especially if water was low. Heading downhill with the tractor, boiler water ran forward away from the firebox, fire heated the metal in the boiler white hot, and when the tractor leveled, water rushed back and flashed to steam faster than the safety valve could relieve the pressure, too often in a deadly explosion. Surely steam tractor operator documentation in the 1880s (and perhaps engineering journals) cautioned about "full steam ahead" and shared wisdom about the need to back down hills.

(Note: Control Engineering isn’t italicized in the reprinted e-newsletter below – Italic wasn’t an option then.)


ONLINE extra, reprint, 15 years ago:

First Control Engineering enewsletter

September, 30, 1999


WELCOME to the premiere issue

of Control Engineering E-News!


In this issue:

– What is Control Engineering E-News?

– September Highlights

– Control Engineering Online launches redesigned site in November 1999


What is Control Engineering E-News?


You rely on Control Engineering magazine to provide you with the most accurate news and information about instrumentation, controls, and automation. With Control Engineering E-News, you’ll receive even more valuable content from a trusted source. Combined with our magazine and website, Control Engineering Online at, this newsletter will provide you with the latest news, products, and technical articles, tailored to fit your needs.


September Highlights


Check out the September issue online. 

Issue highlights include: 

Cover stories: Open Systems

* In process control, do they cure all ills?

  Free mixing of hardware and software to solve control problems has advantages, but only when it works as intended.

* Freedom of choice in manufacturing

  Formal and de facto standards enable control engineers to construct a multi-vendor system capable of easy upgrades.

Show Previews

* ISA Tech/99, Philadelphia, Oct. 5-7

* Interkama ’99, Oct. 18-23, Dusseldorf, Germany

Process Control & Instrumentation

* Smaller SCADA

Dial-up environmental protection with SCADA systems.

* Valve Sizing

When control valves are mis-sized and/or misapplied, cost impact can extend far beyond the purchase price.

* Predicting the Flow

Model for San Francisco Bay uses simulation.

Motors & Motion Control

* Servo or Vector Control

Here’s how to choose between two control types from lessons learned in applications.

Control Components

* Power Supplies

Select the right power supply for the right application.

* Data Acquisition

Control Engineering "Product Focus" research shows how data acquisition hardware and software helps maintain plant health.


Control Engineering Online launches

redesigned site in November 1999


Be sure to visit in November, when Control Engineering Online will have a whole new look. The most important change will be the implementation of a channel structure, with each of the 10 channels focusing on one of the major aspects of Control Engineering’s editorial coverage. Each channel will contain related news, magazine articles, online extras, products, and links to the Control & Automation Buyer’s Guide and Automation Integrator Guide.

We will be introducing specialized newsletters in the near future. Each specialized newsletter will focus on one of the ten editorial channels of Control Engineering in the year 2000.

The ten channels are:

* Process Control and Advanced Control. "Process control" refers to the equipment and methods used to automatically measure and manipulate the conditions of a continuous process. "Advanced control" includes any method for process control more elaborate than a single variable PID loop.

* Instrumentation. Instrumentation covers sensors, transmitters, and associated hardware for the "big four" process variables—pressure, temperature, flow, and level.

* Software and Information Integration. Software extends into all areas of automation, instrumentation, and control. Main areas of coverage include configuration tools; control software; data acquisition/SCADA; design software for automation; ERP integration; Internet; MES/middleware; product selection/specification; real-time, redundant, mission-critical; and SPC/SQC software.

* Machine Control. Machine control discusses programmable controllers, computer numerical controllers, and the input/output systems that control manufacturing processes.

* Human-Machine Interface. Human-machine interface includes those hardware and software products that facilitate interaction with process controllers. Board-level and embedded products are also covered.

* PC-Based Control. PC-based control has increased in mindshare and marketshare in the automation industry, differentiating itself from PLCs, DCSs, and CNCs that users seek to replace.

* Motors, Drives, and Motion Control. Motors, Drives, and Motion Control ranges across the entire automation and controls strategy of measurement, decision, and actuation functions. Versatile motor types provide actuation through decisions of the drive, which provides electronic control and power switching functions-aided by measurements coming from feedback devices. Motion control adds logic functions to all of the above.

* Networks and Communications. Primary categories within Network and Communications include: bridges, repeaters, routers, and switches; device networks; embedded networks; Ethernet; fiber-optic equipment; fieldbuses and field-level networks; serial communications; sensor- and I/O-level networks; signal conditioning and converters; wireless technologies; and wire, cable, and connectors.

* System Integrators. System integrators are contract engineers that provide their time, talents, and technology for industrial automation and control projects. System integration refers to the technology and methods they use to connect disparate equipment into a unified automation system.

* Control Components and Sensors. Control Components/Sensors covers device-level products. These products serve in stand-alone capacities or may function as part of a larger device/system. Some of the products covered in this beat are sensors, digital signal processors, intrinsic safety devices, position detection devices, computer input devices, terminal blocks, and power supplies.

Watch for future installments of Control Engineering E-News in your inbox.


Now you can see the Global System Integrator Database …and review and sign up for current topical Control Engineering newsletters here includes other September anniversary issue articles.

Author Bio: Mark Hoske has been Control Engineering editor/content manager since 1994 and in a leadership role since 1999, covering all major areas: control systems, networking and information systems, control equipment and energy, and system integration, everything that comprises or facilitates the control loop. He has been writing about technology since 1987, writing professionally since 1982, and has a Bachelor of Science in Journalism degree from UW-Madison.